NYCMarathon Recap : Sometimes You Eat the B(e)ar…
This is entirely too long but I think you all know how I am by now.
Thursday – I arrived in New York at 5:45 am on Halloween and made my way to Brooklyn via the subway. I had a whirlwind few days leading up to my trip and was exhausted coming off the red-eye that morning. Usually I try to power through the day but by the time I arrived at my friend’s house I wanted a nap. I hit the bed and slept for a solid 2.5 hours before starting my day. My buddy Andy and I grabbed some coffee and lunch as it started to drizzle outside. A warm bowl of clam chowder and awesome music helped set the tone for six very New York days. We explored Brooklyn by foot, drinking way too much coffee, finding charcuterie shop with beers and then made our way back to the place in time for trick or treaters to arrive. We didn’t have much as far as decorations or costumes but we had candy, iTunes proving “Halloween” radio and a stoop to sit. This was exactly what I wanted and needed that day.
Friday - I ran around Manhattan this morning in search of breakfast, clothes and an Expo. Seeing as this was my second time at the rodeo, I knew the lay of the land. I arrived at the Javits Center on Friday afternoon via a combination of subway and by foot from Brooklyn, had my paperwork ready for a quick and easy entry/exit. The sea of people was a decent representation of what to expect on race morning. The bib pick up was a snap, no line, no issues. Days earlier I had received an email stating that the NYRR had something special for those who decided to return and run in 2013, I figured it was something lame but what they had for me made me smile and kind of sad…
After collecting my bib and my surprise I headed into the madness. I needed a hat because I knew it was going to be cold on race day. I had looked at Lululemon for something cool, nothing, Supreme NYC, nothing…so I had to find something at the Expo. I opted for the official race cap of the marathon in white before heading to the main floor. The set up was genius by the marathon organizers, they had a huge section with official gear and you had to walk through that before you reached the rest of the vendors. Once out, I skipped by every company because I wanted to get back to the amazingness of Manhattan. I would’ve made it out unscathed too if it wast for those damn kids…at Saucony. Those bastards placed their booth right by the exit. I decided to peruse their selection, and of course I see the special New York Kinvara 4, and of course it is bad ass…bought. I also saw a much cooler hat with some matching orange accents and a vintage style New York Marathon shirt that looked just cool enough to buy. End result, a $180 bucks spent in roughly 10 minutes…on top of the $100 I spent at Lululemon about an hour before. New York does an excellent job of knocking down the well fortified walls of my bank account!
Overall experience. Positive. I was very excited to see my bib, so excited that I requested to take a photo with the girl who handed it to me…much like last year. Everything was well-organized and efficient. The only issue about the Javits Center is that the closest subway exit is Madison Square Garden about 3/4 of a mile away. Cabs are out of the question around that area, especially with Friday traffic so way too many runners were forced to pound the pavement with the race less than 48 hours away.
Friday Night - AWESOME. Dinner at my favorite Brooklyn restaurant with great friends. I am not a pork chop fan but I took a gamble on it last time I visited and it was so dang good that I could not pass it up. I don’t think I will ever order anything else from Prime Meats in the future…its mind glowingly GREAT.
Saturday - I did my shakeout run with my buddy Nathan, 2 awesome miles. He ran NYC a few years back so it was awesome to shoot the poop and explore his neighborhood with him. Everything felt as it should, I felt READY. My brother came into town that morning off the red-eye so I hung out with him. I did a bit of walking around the Brooklyn Flea Market since it was less than a 100 yards away from the house. A bunch of “vintage” items and some food…advantage goes to the Rose Bowl Swap Meet, HANDS DOWN. I chilled out the rest of the day before heading to an early dinner at a restaurant that supposedly has the best Gnocchi in Brooklyn…unfortunately it is not a permanent menu item as I had assumed, FAIL. Don’t worry, I still managed to consume tons of pasta and bread to complete the carbo-load. I went home, my buds went out for some drinks. I laid out my race gear, my post race gear and went over the entire race strategy for the umpteenth time. I was never nervous about the race but I was concerned about the 20+ degree drop in temps from Saturday to Sunday, and of course…the 15-20 mph winds all morning. Went to bed feeling great, I fell asleep by 9pm and slept through the entire night. Added bonus, an extra hour of sleep thanks to “fall backward”.
Sunday / Race Day
I was up
bright and dark and early. I was feeling fresh and quickly got ready and out the door in under 15 minutes to catch the subway over to Manhattan. I didn’t see another runner until I hit Brooklyn and then the subway was crawling with them. I was starting to get a little excited. I joined the masses on the Staten Island Ferry and found a seat by the window so I could see the Statue of Liberty on the way. I was bundled and warm and once I saw Lady Liberty, I was so happy to be a part of what was to come.
We arrived at the terminal just around 6:30 and I had read some tips about hanging out there to stay warm, versus heading to the starting corrals and sitting outside in the cold, and wind. This was a great bit of advice. I was warm and comfortable. At first I was concerned because there were only about 7 people sitting down when I arrived but within an hour, the terminal was PACKED and buzzing.
I struck up a conversation with a lady from Boston who was hoping to use her New York time to qualify for Boston. We talked about races, strategy, and how we were both excited to run the course…first timer bonding to the max. I then struck up a conversation with three guys from the UK who had trained together, I had too good a conversation with these blokes because next thing I knew it was 8:20 and I had wanted to be out of the terminal at 8:05. I said my goodbyes, wished everyone luck and headed out the door. The line for the shuttle was insane and I realized that I would be cutting it close to catch my corral. I thought the corral closed at 9:10 for Wave 1 but when I arrived at my area after a quick pit stop, they told me that it had just been cut off…it was 8:55. I was definitely disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to take off in Wave 1 but decided to just be easy and not stress. I joined Wave 2 and snuck my way up to the first corral in the wave. I talked to more runners and started to peel off my bigger layers. I could see the elites on the Verrazano Bridge warming up and then before I knew it, there was a cannon blast and they were off! You could hear New York, New York and the people cheering as they took off. After the first wave took off the staff almost immediately started to walk us up towards the starting line. Police held hands and formed a line to keep runners back.
We turned the corner and I could finally see the starting line about 300 yards in front of us. Next thing I know people started ducking under the human police barricade. I asked why people were doing that and someone said, they missed their Wave 1 start so they are letting them go now… WHAT? Of course I scurry over and tell the official that I am in Wave 1 and they let me through. I started jogging towards the start and realized that there would be no grand start for me and that I had spent no time getting warm or gathering my thoughts about something that I had looked forward to for over a year and a half. I stopped about 50 yards before the starting line, snapped some pictures, situated myself, and focused on the what was about to happen.
I crossed the mat and as soon as I did…it hit me…I would not stop until I crossed the finish line some 26.2 miles later. I was surrounded by…NO ONE. I could hear the music from my phone and the wind testing the strength of my bib, I literally thought it was going to blow off. The wind was that strong. I caught up to a few packs of runners after about a quarter-mile. They were the runners with disabilities that went off at the end of Wave 1. Two guides flanking each disabled runner. Two guys had a prosthetic blade for a leg and to say that I was humbled was an understatement. Then I saw the blind people running with a band around each elbow that kept them centered between two guides…I was not only thankful and humbled, but also extremely inspired. I savored the entire first mile with the eerie Verrazano.
I stayed reigned in and took it at whatever pace I felt comfortable and then slowed it down a bit more to be sure I started slow. I could see Manhattan from the bridge and thought to myself…that looks REALLY FAR, I have to run there. During training I didn’t have a chance to actually see what 26.2 miles looks like so it was kind of insane to get that kind of visual. Coming down the Verrazano there were policemen and a police helicopter hovering to the left of the bridge…it was extremely surreal. I hit the bottom of the bridge and that was the last time I would be able to hear the music on my phone. The crowds started to line the overpasses, pretty sparse but they were there, then I hit the first neighborhood and it was on. I was having the time of my life. I was literally smiling from ear to ear. I was amazed by the energy. Amazed by the cheering people. I settled in at around an 8:40 pace but really wasn’t paying too much attention to it. I kept thinking about something a fellow blogger Jen had written, don’t focus on time, enjoy the experience. I figured I would do both but it was around mile 6 when I realized I was about 10 seconds per mile slower than I needed to be so I decided, no big deal, if I can make it up at the end then great, if not, no big deal.
I started looking for my brother around mile 6. He said he would be across from the Pep Boys at mile 7. I was searching the horizon for a mile and then I saw it and immediately started scanning the right side. Thankfully my brother is 6’7″ so he is very easy to spot and once I did, I headed straight for him and his brother/sister-in-law. I ran over, gave high fives all around and tossed him my phone case that I forgot to take off. I didn’t stop, I slowed, and moved on…in hindsight, I probably should’ve, at least for a few seconds. They knew I was overjoyed to see them, it was seeping out of me physically and emotionally. My brother said, “How is it going so far?”…I yelled back as I passed, “I feel awesome, see you in a bit!”.
The roads were wide heading up 4th Avenue and soon I hit the Barclays Center, an area that I had walked around the days before. I saw a landmark that told me the house I was staying at was less than a mile away. The wide streets of 4th Avenue quickly gave way to the narrow and tree-lined streets of Lafayette. The crowd became thick and the sound became thicker. This was my most favorite section of the course. Maybe it was because I had spent the days leading up to the race exploring it and making it my temporary home but it also has something to do with the area being so quintessentially New York. Classic Brownstone’s on both sides, and trees the color of fall…picturesque.
As I neared the house I took off my sleeves, and put everything extra into my hat before tossing in the gutter as I neared my friends. They had signs, they were yelling and smiling. I was so excited/thankful/proud/happy to be at that very point in my life. I had done something right to be able to be at that point. 8.5 miles in and had passed some of the most supportive people in all aspects of my life, I loved it all. I dished out some high fives, snatched three gel packs from Andy and kept cruising. Go Dom, GO! HA, thinking about it still makes me happy!
I was ready to conquer. Ready to achieve. I was excited once I hit Bed-Stuy, the home of Biggie and Jay-Z. Then the much-anticipated and fully unique Jewish section of the course where the crowds disappeared and had a good chuckle when a lady yelled out…”YOU’RE ALL WINNERS!!! YOU’RE ALL WINNERS”…it’s an AMAZING Seinfeld reference…
I was in cruise control, drinking water at every other station, making sure I was fueled and making sure I was still at a minimal exertion pace. I felt that my race strategy was being executed perfectly. The temperature began to fluctuate drastically. I had ditched my sleeves at Nathan’s house because the sun was peeking through and it was starting to warm up, I figured it would continue to get warmer. The wind was still strong and at around mile 12 but then the drizzle started. Had I known that the weather would take a turn for the worse, I would’ve kept my hat and my sleeves. All was still well, I was running smart and only about two minutes behind my ideal pace at the half marathon point. Around mile 14 I started feeling like I needed to step up the intensity, I was concerned I may be taking it too easy but decided that I felt I had trained well enough that I could make up some ground after mile 20 and still make a run at 3:35. I started getting mentally prepared for break from the crowds and the impending climb at the Queensboro Bridge. I thought, take it easy up, let yourself run naturally down and don’t get too excited when you hit 1st Avenue. I had prepared for a monster, and don’t get me wrong, it was steep but it wasn’t as big as I expected. I used the time on the bridge to assess how I was feeling and refocus…I concluded that I felt awesome and that I would gradually bump up the exertion on 1st Ave to get from about 8:40 to around 8:30 per mile.
As I ran up first ave, the wind was still howling and I knew that it was bad when I started to see a shadow at my feet, I was being drafted. I chuckled and just kept on going, I didn’t lose my shadow for at least a mile. I proactively decided to walk and take in some water at mile 19 to break the monotony of the stride just as I had done in training. I was still beaming with smiles but I knew I needed to start focusing. I knew there was another bridge coming up to get into the Bronx and that pretty soon after that the battle would begin. When I hit the Bridge, my legs started to feel a little odd so I decided to stop and stretch real quick. I walked for about 10 seconds and ate an electrolyte bean before getting started again.
Soon after the above photo the shit hit the fan. I cramped up really bad in my right hamstring and I had to stop. It was at this point that the pressure of the clock became a factor. I started calculating how long I could take to try and work this thing out the right way so I could push to the finish. I decided I was ok with walking and stretching for about a minute before moving forward. I grabbed a banana from a family on the side (the amount of people who offered support like this was incredible). I ate the banana and then started on my way again. About a tenth of a mile later…it happened again. I did my best to tell myself, it’s ok, you are doing awesome. A minute or two had passed and I felt like I needed to keep going, I could feel myself transitioning my thoughts to 3:45. I began to jog, then a couple tenths later I cramped again…I began to realize that 3:45 was going to be difficult to hit if this persisted. I pulled off my phone to see my time as I walked. I had a couple of text messages from friends telling me how well I was doing and that they were tracking me. I hadn’t crossed a mat recently so I sent a response back …cramping bad. Messages came back quickly…keep going, you got this. It never crossed my mind that I would not finish…but it also hadn’t crossed my mind that I would be in this type of battle to make it under 4 hours. I kept moving in hopes that the last cramp was the final one and at some point I would be able to just keep moving and not need to stop anymore. I was hoping that the cramps would subside enough to make a strong push but also began to hope that I could just get into a steady 9:00/mi trot. I just knew I couldn’t afford to cramp or walk much more. I never lacked energy or determination, I still felt solid but my body was uncooperative and soon my positive attitude would disappear.
My heart, my soul, my being was ready to fight. It all became really blurry once I entered Manhattan again. I was in pure anguish. Anguish is defined as not only physical pain but also mental, I was suffering from both. I took gels, took walk breaks, stopped and stretched. The crowds cheered for all the runners but when you stop, they turn into the ultimate support, so encouraging. I was frustrated with what was happening but thankful for the people who did their best to pep me up. The crowds were so supportive, it was something that I didn’t think I would need but I was so appreciative. The people that chatted me up like coaches, I will remember them the most. Around mile 23 there was a lady with a handful of pretzel sticks, of course I thought…salt!…so I grabbed one as I walked, thanked her and then nibbled the salt off like a squirrel. I kept walking then running the best I could but it only last a short a couple of minutes each time. There was a police officer who saw one of my worst cramps in which both hamstrings seized for about 30 seconds straight around mile 23.5…I was in severe pain and she said…do you want medical attention…of course the answer was HELL NO…but I politely said no, I’ll be ok, thank you. She looked at me like I was nuts (I am sure she gave that look out several hundred time that day) but said…ok, keep going…you’re almost there. I knew I was getting closer to Central Park and right before I had a chance to make the turn I cramped in my quads and moved to the side to stretch. My face showed my frustration, pain and probably disappointment. I didn’t want people to see my face when I stopped, so I stretched with my back to them. It was about this time when I realized that even the 4 hour goal was gone….I almost broke down. If there was ever a time that I could be invisible it was then and as I stared at the ground between my legs a girl said…lookin good…with a laugh, and then she said…keep going! If I could’ve cracked a smile at her I would’ve. I started up again and cramped again. Every time I stopped to walk I was met with…you got this…you’re only X distance away. A few people caught the name on my bib and spoke to me like we were friends. Fight through it Dom, don’t give up. Keep moving, keep walking, just keep moving forward. I saw the looks of sympathy on peoples faces when the cramps hit real bad and I was embarrassed. Now I think back and am thankful that people cared enough about a stranger to show an emotion. I am not sure I will ever run New York again but I do plan on going back to the marathon so I can post up at mile 24 and be a part of the support system.
The entry into Central Park was amazing, that was one of the longer sections I was able to stay moving. The cramps were still coming with different levels of severity but for about a half mile I actually felt like I may be able to run all the way to the finish. It wasn’t until about mile 24.5 that the cramps came back with a vengeance. Stop and walk. There was a small section of downhill where I was able to move a little better without feeling like my legs were going to seize up.
I started to recognize the surroundings and new I was getting close to exiting the park and then the cramps hit again. I finally made it to Central Park South and the crowds were thick and lining both sides of the street. I couldn’t shake the thoughts about how I expected to feel when I hit this point. I envisioned pushing hard, running on fumes and fighting through it, feeding off the energy but the reality was that I was doing a balancing act between jogging and cramping. With about a half mile to go my quads seized again and had to stretch by the barrier. An older man with a thick New York accent leaned over and said…You’re almost there, you’re doing it, you’re almost done. I looked up, he smiled, and said…you got it. I acknowledged him and kept moving. I heard him yell out, don’t stop…keep it slow! I didn’t know the man but the interaction felt like he was so invested in me and believed in me in such a way that it was warming. Over the last 6 miles I kept trying to trick myself into believing it was mind over matter, I tried to shorten the stride, run stiffer or run looser. I knew I was real close as I made my way back into the park at Columbus Circle. I saw the people fighting up the last hill with everything they had, looking like they had noodle legs but digging as deep as they could. I wanted that experience so badly. I wanted to sprint to the finish. As I approached the 26 mile marker I thought, I can make it without stopping if I just keep this rhythm…I cramped again. I walked for a few seconds, started to jog and at 26.1, I cramped again. Thankfully I didn’t have to fully walk across the finish line.
I had dreamed about the final 5k and the pain of pushing it. I was looking forward to the battle. The feeling of my heart pounding out of my chest, my lungs searching for air, my feet throbbing or my knees aching. Instead, as I crossed the finish line my breathe was solid, my feet felt strong, my heart was beating just fine and no aches…only tense muscles that were happy it was over.
I crossed the finish line with my head hung low. I was not ecstatic. I was dejected. A lady handed me my medal and said…you just ran a marathon!…but I was sulking. I fake smiled and put the medal in my pocket. If I could go back in time I would punch myself in the face, trust me. They say that you can tell a persons character by how they handle adversity. I would hate to see how someone would size me up at that point in time. Everyone was exhausted around me. Everyone battled in some way. My path was unique to me, but everyone battled. My expectations of the day and the results were different than expected and I made a bad situation worse. What should’ve been one of my proudest moments was my least. Not because I didn’t reach a goal but because of how I handled it. I think it is definitely ok to be disappointed because I know how hard I worked and what I trained my body to be capable of BUT I still gave it everything I had in a very different way. I am proud of that.
I felt terrible. I looked terrible. I’m sure I wore disappointment on my face. A volunteer wrapped a thermal blanket around me and said congrats. The volunteers were so kind and it started to turn my attitude around slowly. As I walked the long and ironically lonely path out of the corrals I saw people limping, exhausted, and on the ground. Some being attended to by medics, it literally looked like a triage. I also saw a lot of faces just like mine. Faces of disappointment, people are a strange bunch. I kept walking towards the exit and started hearing murmurs from people…I mean how far do we have to walk, it’s not like we just ran a marathon or anything…it was kind of insane. I was starting to get tired and really cold after 3/4 of a mile. The temps were in the low 40′s and it was still windy. I walked about a mile before finally reaching the family reunion area. Right before exiting, there was a section where volunteers slapped the special parka on you if you chose to not check a bag at the start. Most were ladies but they were all saints. I was freezing and over walking. There were two people barking orders…keep moving down, no wait ahead!…so I kept walking. I watched as people had parkas draped on them quickly and they moved on….I wanted one real bad but kept walking forward as instructed. Then a woman saw me, she was maybe 5’3″, she jogged over to me, I stopped and went to help her get it over my shoulders and she reprimanded me like I was her child…I got it, just stand there. She hopped up and threw it over my shoulder, she grabbed me by the shoulder area of the parka and tightened it with the velcro. She stared at me and said…congratulations…there was something maternal about the entire exchange that got to me. I realized that I had done it. Not the way I had envisioned…not even close actually. But I had done it.
I learned a lot about myself after mile 20…some good and some bad. I learned that I am pretty selfish. I was so focused on achieving a goal that I denied myself the opportunity to fully take in the greatness of the event. New York City shuts down. A lot of people put their life on hold, for what, some runners? Why? Money…sure. But something that hit me after the fact, days after the fact, is that the marathon is a way for New York to show the world that people (especially New Yorkers) are innately great. We are all apart of this community and we genuinely want to see the best in people.
As I made my way down Central Park West with the rest of the zombiesque walking dead I pondered improving my attitude. Lightening my mood and being proud. I finally made it to my brother and my best friend. My brother suggested I head inside an ATM room to get warm and put on some layers. I told them the details of what happened as jokingly as possible. I think I did a decent job of keeping them entertained with my recap. I said something to the effect of…the most disappointing part is I wanted to do this one right so I would never have to do it again! Then my brother quipped, well, you can always do Los Angeles in March. I laughed and said, I may have to sign up. I plead temporary insanity, I mean look at me…
Originally we had planned to celebrate uptown with beers and I expected to be ready to cheer on some people by the park but I was spent and cold so we decided to head back to Brooklyn. The crowds were THICK and we struggled to make it to the subway. My brother and my friend were so thoughtful about making our way back as easy as possible for me, it again reminded me to be thankful. Once we got out of Manhattan the amount of marathoners diminished and by the time we were back in Brooklyn I was the only orange parka wearing person in sight. One guy stopped me as we exited the subway by the Barclays and said, you ran the marathon! Congrats! He asked me how it went, I told him the truth…GREAT until I cramped at Mile 20…then he said, that’s awesome though, you finished! He also told me that he had planned to run last year but it was cancelled and that he was training to run this year but got injured and had to back out. A perspective moment that happened by absolute chance. As we crossed the streets he said congrats again and went his own way. I did it. I had the chance to do it. I was able to walk away unscathed and healthy with an experience that I will absolutely never forget. An amazing experience all the way around. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, hell, I don’t think it ever does…and one thing I continue to learn is how to take it all in stride. New York taught me more about myself through this struggle then I may have learned without it and for that I am extremely grateful. I now realize that on race day, sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. That day the bear filled its belly with me but I plan on getting a full helping of him next time. Yes, there will be a next time.
About 3 years ago I was driving to pick up a client for lunch and I was listening to a guy talk about his training for NYC on sports talk radio. I was captivated by the conversation, so much so that I decided right then and there…I’m doing that, I’m going to run a marathon, it’s going to be New York. I picked up my client and we were talking about life, he asked me if I ran because I had a runners build….I chuckled and told him…I wouldn’t say I’m a runner but I did decide this morning that I’m going to run New York. He chuckled at my comment like I was being flippant and then said…there will be a lot of hard work but you can do it…I understood but I had no idea what he meant. Until now I didn’t fully grasp how much of an understatement that was. I remember telling my then girlfriend that day that I was going to run NY, I am pretty sure she thought I was full of shit. I also proclaimed my new goal on Facebook…
Please note, I had yet to run my first half marathon at that point but I had committed to running. But saying that I was close to being a marathoner is like saying that someone who makes mac and cheese out of a box is close to being a chef. So I get that people probably didn’t take me too serious. Going back and searching for this post was awesome, it allowed me to realize how far I have come in the last three years and be even more proud of the journey!
Monday – Fortunately and unfortunately I felt fine the next day. Sure I was a bit sore but no worse for the wear than the day after my 22 miler. Andy and I decided to head to Manhattan for round two at one of my new favorite restaurants, Momofuku Noodle Bar and also to head to Momofuku Milk Bar so I could double up on my confections. I mean seriously, look at this…
After lunch we made our way through the East Village down to SoHo before heading to the Brooklyn Bridge since my buddy Andy had never been. The Brooklyn Bridge is in my top 3 things see in New York behind Central Park and MoMa. We decided to walk across it and catch the subway on the other side. The best decision. Here are some of the highlights…
When we got home, we rested for a bit before heading out for the evening. We hit the Shanty in Williamsburg for cocktails before heading to the much anticipated Peter Luger’s. This was the steak dinner I had been waiting for and by the time we arrived we were primed for a great meal. The staff was awesome and the food did not disappoint. My friends and I made the entire experience memorable, we laughed REAL HARD and had the best of times.
Tuesday - Easy travel day activities. More coffee, exploring and memories on a crisp fall morning. New York is worthy of love for its diversity and uniqueness, it almost makes me want to pack my bags and take up residence. Thanks for the memories and life lesson…until we meet again!